I was embarrassed by my homelessness

7 October 2022

I was embarrassed by my homelessness

This is a story about Justin, who went from working in management to years of homelessness – often living rough on the streets and sheltering in doorways for warmth. Justin shares his story to help and encourage others.

I’m 44 and from Sydney. I moved around a lot from my 20s, not building many strong relationships. I suffered from mental health issues for most of my life. I was 13 when I first saw someone about my struggles after my school suggested it. Despite some challenges, I went on to work in management in two of Australia’s best-known companies and, on the surface, was doing well. I bought and sold homes, and life felt reasonably successful.

For many years, I managed my mental health issues fairly well until I was bullied by a high-end manager at work. As a result, I started having panic attacks and ended up in hospital. I thought I was having a heart attack, which is how a panic attack feels to me.

Sleeping rough when homeless

I stepped down from management and returned to a simpler role. I later began a successful business, employing others, but was heavily self-medicating and drinking increasingly higher doses of alcohol. My depression and anxiety also gained an ever-growing hold on me, and my marriage broke down.

I started couch-surfing at friends’ places but quickly burnt through those friendships because I wasn’t addressing my underlying issues. At one stage, I moved into a hotel attached to a pub. This wasn’t a smart move, and I quickly drank through my savings.

I moved back in with my family for a short time, but that didn’t work out either. I ended up back in Sydney in a hostel and eventually on the street. By that stage, I was no longer working.

Many nights I had nowhere to stay. I’d just try and find a doorway to keep the wind off. I didn’t sleep that much at night. I’d sleep more during the day in a park or something. It feels a bit safer during the day.

I was also embarrassed. You see people avoiding you. Some people are nice, but others look at you like you’re just a drunk, and that’s how I saw myself.

The never-ending cycle of homelessness

When I could afford it, I would get a night here and there in a hostel or motel to clean up a bit. This happened for six months or so until one day I ended up at The Salvation Army’s door.

Before being assessed, I spent three nights in emergency accommodation and offered a more stable room in short-term accommodation. But I soon fell back into drinking, then went to rehab and ended up back in the never-ending cycle.

But I knew I couldn’t go on the way I was, and so I re-contacted my Salvos case manager. We spoke about my drinking and my depression and anxiety. Very quickly, I moved back into the short-term accommodation. This was relatively short-lived as I was accepted into the Together Home program, and I moved into the small apartment where I live today.

Ongoing care

It was, and is, good having my own space again, but the last COVID-19 lockdown really got to me. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere. I wouldn’t see anyone for weeks. That was hard.

I presented to hospital and was placed in a mental health rehabilitation unit. That gave me the chance to get my medications sorted and work on other strategies.

My case manager from the Salvos visited me weekly. We discussed many things, and I told him I wanted to give back to others because I’d always volunteered, even when I was homeless. So, I started a Certificate 4 in Community Services. I hope to go on to complete the diploma. In the meantime, I am casually employed in a ‘lived experience’ role at the Salvos and help where I can.

Life is looking positive, but I take it one day at a time. I know how quickly I can fall back if I’m not careful.

Without the Salvos services and case managers, I don’t think I could have gotten it together. That support, their reassurance – it has made all the difference. When you are homeless, it is very hard to find a way out without support.

I hope I can now make a difference, even just by sharing my story.

The Salvation Army is the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia, you can find out more about services below.
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